Everything was set for Namibia, the hostels, the sights to see, the mileage each day, the car, the tent, the sleeping bags…And we ended up in Botswana
Friday – 13th of May – Stellenbosch – Springbok – Namibian border – Springbok – 820 km
The car was ready to go, we signed the papers, got the tent from Stephan, the sleeping bags from Martin and all the camping gear from my landlady. Till now it all looked great. But as luck has it, it had to be a Friday and the 13th. As they say “Never turn back, if you leave”. We had to, because finally the lithium battery arrived for my camera (long story), but as my luck continued, the company sent me the wrong one. No worries, 700 km to go till the Namibian border.
Once you leave the Western Cape, the landscape is an endless semi-desert, rock desert called the Namaqualand. The landscape is arid, barren and seems endless. Small towns appear in the middle of nowhere on the highway. We managed to be at the border by 5 pm, we crossed the SA border post, took photos of the Orange river and the ‘Welcome to Namibia’ sign, got our passports stamped. But misfortune so had it that a second guy decided to double check my passport and tell me the verdict ‘Ah, no. Hmm…There seems to be a problem. Romanian citizens need a Visa’. Boom!!! smack in my face. Nearest point to get a VISA isCape Town. What to do? I started cursing, regretting every moment of having this passport (till now it has only done harm to me), but I was lucky to have a travel companion such as Olivier who looks at the bright side of things.
We went back 150 km to the nearest town, Springbok and after calling 10 different B&Bs we settled for a cheap 2 star hotel and decided to rethink everything in the morning.
Saturday – 14th of May – Springbok – Augrabies Falls – 435 km
We decided to go into the uncertain and the unkown. Our Lonely Planet book included Namibia and Botswana as well, but we only had a rudimentary map of South Africa. I recalled a host of mine at the Tsitsa Falls recommending me Augrabies.
The road is magnificent; open, endless semi-desert like landscape, with the occasional windmills pumping water into wells. You can easily do 150 km/h and travel 150 km without seeing a car or a small town by any chance. The Botswana Embassy was closed on Saturday but my friend Nino told me that I shouldn’t need a visa.
We booked a tent site, but the entrance fee is 10 euros for internationals, 4 times higher than for SA nationals and the lady wouldn’t budge even if we had SA residence permits. The falls are amazing; the Orange River carved a 20 km long gorge which is of outstanding beauty. The falls also contain a national park, with some amazing desolate landscape and we managed to see one lonely giraffe as well.
We enjoyed the sunset with a 4 pack of Peroni, wild hyraxes (Dassies) jumping on the rocks and a mini earthquake underneath us 🙂 It was the first night we set up the tent, cooked food on the gas burner and froze our asses off in our sleeping bags (+blankets).
15th of May – Sunday – Augrabies Falls – Upington – Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Twee Rivieren) – 400 km
We decided to try our luck with the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is a joint park between SA andBotswana, and is bigger than Belgium(38.000 km2). The landscape towards the park changes between semi desert with occasional red sand dunes, to almost savanna like plains by the time you reach the reserve.
Luck finally struck on us. We forgot to make a booking in advance for entering the park, but a wonderful Afrikaans lady (in a hurry) asked us whether we would like to take her luxury chalet for a night as they had to cancel it. For free !!! So we ended up staying in a nice 4 bed bungalow for free 😛 We managed to enter the park as well in the afternoon and spotted herds of Springbok, Oryxes, Ostriches, Wildebeests and many wonderful birds.
16th of May – Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Gemsbok – 250 km
We woke up at 5.45 am to be able to prepare in time, catch the sunrise and enter the park at 7 am. In total, we did 10 hours of game drive with our car and the moment we waited for, happened. We spotted the predators: 2 male lions, then 2 female ones and a young male one, 3 females on a hill and one astonishing male on a hill. I must admit. They deserve the name, king of all animals. Till now, they probably are the most majestic creatures I have ever seen. On our way back we also managed to spot a cheetah with its pray, a dead Springbok, lying under a tree.
Uncertainty struck again, as on the Botswana side the rangers told me that I need a visa and also there weren’t any tent sites available. Plus we were not allowed to cross into Botswana through the park without a 4X4. So we found a nice campsite 40 km outside the park and managed to spend the night there.
17th of May – Gemsbok – Bokspits border crossing – Lost in the Kalahari – Tsabong – 480 km
We got up early as usual, packed up the tent and headed back 20 km to try out sand boarding. 😛 We found a nice sand dune and rented some cheap board like thingies and started acting like stupid kids, first going down the dune sitting, then standing up and even trying out some tricks.
Good news, finally. I didn’t need a visa forBotswana, so we entered through Bokspits but ended up turning back to ask where is theBotswanaborder post? It turned out to be 5 km ahead, in a small town’s police station, in a run down building, with two horses grazing next to it and a capsized car. The police officers were extremely friendly, stamped our passports and wished us good luck.
We decided to enter the Botswana side of the park through Mabuasehube, as we were forbidden to do so from SA because we lacked a 4WD. The nearest town from the border crossing was Tsabong, at the edge of the Kalahari, 267 km away. This meant that our gas and 2 l of water had to last us, as there was nothing till there. To our surprise, two of our maps showed a run down gravel road till Tsabong (even Google maps doesn’t show any road :/), which in reality turned out to be an amazing, new tar road. So we could do 150 km/h without a problem. Even the police officers recommended us to do the distance in 1,5 hours.
The landscape is a mix of semi-desert and red sand dunes with some occasional cow herders living in the middle of nowhere. We reached Tsabong after asking for permission from a herder to view his magnificent sand dune.
TSABONG, oh yes this name would haunt us. A dusty little town with one supermarket, one gas station and one bank.
We exchanged our SA Rands to the local currency, Pula(which quite frankly means ‘c…o…ck’ in Romanian but ‘rain’ in Tswana). So I head the best time of my life at the bank, asking for pulas, paying in pulas and just mentioning that name. 🙂
Then we checked the map and it showed a 120 km long gravel road to Mabuasehube. So I called up the reserve, booked a tent site and we were steaming ahead on the gravel road… Botswana is already remote, wild, with amazing wildlife not in the parks but on the side of the gravel roads. So we passed oryxes, kudus, impalas and we managed to get stuck 50 m in the sand, 20 km from the reserve, in the middle of nowhere before nightfall. Now this is really not a joke. We didn’t have any shovels whatsoever.
So the toil began. We got out the one frying pan we had, the dinner plates and started digging out the sand, which went up to the engine house. In 10 minutes we were already sweating. No cars on the road, no phone signal. Olivier put his leg under the car to scrape out the sand and managed to put a deep cut into his foot. So we stopped the bleeding by cutting his old sock and I rapped it around the wound. Then the digging resumed. The car sank in again. We got rid of the sand for 20 m, put some huge rocks under the front tiers and started pushing. It took us more than an hour. We were dirty, sweaty but happy to be out of there.
We managed to get back to Tsabong at nightfall, but all the hotels we stopped at were fully booked. I found one big bartender, who accompanied us to this motel, but it was booked. I managed to convince the big momma manager to give us a room in her own house for 35 euros a night for the two of us. We spent the night at her place, with her son and grandchild and we disinfected the wound with the first aid kit she gave us….